Friday, May 18, 2012

Obama, G8, NATO--Whew!

Two weeks ago, François Hollande was nobody on the international scene. Now is he about to meet Obama and take part in the G8 and NATO summits. His rise has been almost as stunningly sudden as DSK's fall. Suddenly he counts. Somebody from France Inter called the other day and asked if I thought Hollande and Obama would get on better or worse than Obama and Sarkozy. I hadn't really thought about it, since I don't view international relations as hinging on the kind of speed dating that goes on at international summits, but my answer was that at bottom, as far as an outsider can judge, Hollande and Obama are more alike than Sarkozy and Obama: both are even-tempered or at least prefer to project calm as a public persona; both are well-educated, reflective, and analytical in their approach to policy; and both have to deal with a shrill opposition (though the UMP is a long way from the American Republican Party's contempt for realism and logic) and stiff criticism even within their own party. They should get on well enough.

Hollande's pledge to accelerate France's withdrawal from Afghanistan is a minor matter by this point: this mission impossible is destined to remain half-finished forever. Obama would cut his losses if he could, but it's more difficult to extricate an elephant from a swamp than a fly. On Europe, the US has an interest in moving Germany off its position, as does France, but it will probably be Monti who takes the lead--proof that even the technocrats can read the handwriting on the wall and that the opposition to austerity is not just political. Cameron will scold, but the UK is not in the eurozone and was not a party to Merkozy, so his ire will be discounted.

On NATO, France is in, no thanks to the Socialists, but it will stay in, as Le Drian has already announced and as I have been saying all along. I do not know what Hollande will say to Obama about Iran or Palestine, but I suspect he will be more forceful than Sarkozy in urging caution on the former and action on the latter.

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